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From Orthodox to Reform: Rabbis seek common ground

NEW YORK, Feb. 22 (JTA) — Nine months after first meeting, the North American Boards of Rabbis is officially getting off the ground with financial backing for two years and the goal of serving as a clearinghouse of information for rabbis around the continent. About 30 people representing 25 boards of rabbis met this week in Washington to choose a national board and update each other on local activities, said Rabbi Marc Schneier, who was elected the group’s president. Schneier, rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., is also president of the New York Board of Rabbis. It is the first time since the Synagogue Council of America, a 70-year old umbrella group of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis, disbanded in 1995 that a national interdenominational group has tried to become a permanent fixture. That group, with a similar mission to this new one, collapsed in part for financial reasons after some Orthodox participants decided they were no longer interested in interdenominational dialogue. “We believe that by creating this umbrella we can sensitize our colleagues to the number of Orthodox rabbis who have made a commitment to being involved in this kind of activity,” Schneier said. “In light of the current state of divisiveness and polarization within the Jewish community, boards of rabbis can play a significant role in finding common ground.” Schneier said the new group, which also includes Reconstructionist rabbis, will focus on five initial projects: * an annual conference; * a quarterly newsletter providing a forum for exchanging program information and ideas among boards of rabbis around North America; * a report documenting examples of interdenominational cooperation among rabbis of different movements, to be released shortly before Rosh Hashanah; * a grass-roots effort to promote interreligious relations by linking local boards of rabbis with representatives of other faith groups; and * trips to Berlin and to the Czech Republic, whose leaders have invited the nascent group to show them how rabbis of different denominations can work together. The group, using the acronym NABOR, is being funded by three major philanthropists — S. Daniel Abraham, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt — who together have pledged $100,000 for each of two years, said Schneier. The new organization will be based in Manhattan, It isn’t known precisely how many boards of rabbis exist around the country, though there are thought to be between 30 and 40. Just a handful have a professional staff. Most are small, informal groups whose members meet periodically. And fewer than ever include Orthodox rabbis, who in recent years have increasingly opted out of participating in interdenominational Jewish forums.